Blogs by Kentuckians: Four to Consider

Woodford Spears & Sons Feedmill in Paris, Kentucky from The Kentucky Junker

Woodford Spears & Sons Feedmill in Paris, Kentucky from The Kentucky Junker

Since removing to Kentucky last year it has been a pleasing thing to reorient to a Bluegrass state of mind (or is that commonwealth of mind?). In my decade long absence there has been a renaissance of Kentucky self-consciousness, which I believe is a good thing. I started my own Kentucky-centric blog over at Eat Kentucky last year (visit early and often), and have enjoyed discovering some other Kentucky blogs. Below are four that I think are worth your time.

J.D. Bentley writes at Bourbon & Tradition where manly themes meet, well tradition and Kentucky. He is an admirer of my old boss Russell Kirk, which is a mighty fine recommendation. Imagine if Hemingway came from Kentucky and was a Tory. Currently he is matrimonial exile in Brazil, but plans to return to Kentucky as soon as practicable. Friendly caution, there is some, shall we say, manly language used.

Take a look at Bentley’s post ‘A Roman Emperor’s Advice to Justin Beiber’

Peter Brackney runs the local history site Kaintuckeean, the name drawn from an early form of the Indian word that became “Kentucky.” Peter is an attorney, although don’t hold that against him, and the author of the recent book Lost Lexington. Peter is a board member of the Blue Grass Trust, an organization dedicated to protecting and preserving historic buildings and landmarks in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region.

Read Brackney’s ‘A Lost Fall Tradition: The Haggins’ Huge Party at Elmendorf’

Kevin, the Kentucky Junker, is a thrifter with a keen eye and mad thrifting skills. His blog is photography driven, but if you like old stuff and the treasure hunt of discovering lost treasures. When I find Kevin I may or may not be the guy following him around to learn his thrift route. Just take the time to browse the site. It’s a treasure trove.

Courtney Hall, the Bourbon Soaked Mom, is based in Hazard in eastern Kentucky. The blog focuses on local history and also thrifting and such. Growing up in bordering Clay County, Courtney writes a lot of interest to me. Courtney, I discovered, is also the daughter of my first cousin’s husband’s brother. That’s one of the most Kentucky things that can ever happen to you.

Read Courtney’s ‘Glory Days: A Story of Hazard’

Do you have any favorite Kentucky blogs?


Off the Shelf: Wendell Berry’s ‘The Wild Geese’ From Black Swan Books

Readers of Pinstripe Pulpit well know that I am an admirer of the writing of Wendell Berry, the letterpress printing of Gray Zeitz at Larkspur Press, and the bookselling of Michael Courtney at Black Swan Books. It is always a happy confluence when the three come together.

Wild Geese title

This past year, 2014, was the 30th anniversary of Lexington’s Black Swan Books. I recently wrote a feature article at KYForward about Michael’s commemoration of the event with a new Larkspur Press letterpress printed broadside of a poem by Wendell Berry.

A broadside is a single sheet of paper printed on one side and meant for framing. The anniversary broadside features a poem by Kentucky writer Wendell Berry whose works are a specialty of Courtney. Black Swan’s broadsides are printed using century-old equipment by Gray Zeitz of Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky. The work of Berry and Zeitz is in such demand that half of the copies of the anniversary broadside were sold within the first two weeks.

The broadside edition of ‘The Wild Geese’ is limited to only 150 copies, each of which is signed by Wendell Berry and numbered. Broadsides also serve as celebration of letterpress printing itself. You can see and feel the texture of the mouldmade paper, the bite of the type in the dampened printed paper.

Courtney Wild Geese

And with limited editions printed from handset type, there is a natural scarcity. Like true “first editions” of old, once the type is broken down and returned to its drawer, that exact edition can never be recreated. Thus a moment in time is captured–preserved–but it cannot be remade.

“What we need is here.”

Wild Geese colophon

The Long Passing Away of the Visible: Fred Chappell Limited Edition Letterpress Broadside Available For Sale

Fred Chappell Back in my active letterpress printing days, the details of which I will at some point record here, I was blessed to work with wonderful writers like Wendell Berry, James Still, and Jane Gentry (Vance). The one non-Kentucky poet I worked with was North Carolina legend Fred Chappell, one of my favorite writers and later the poet laureate of North Carolina. (Adela Press was really a cover for me to work with writers I admired. Shhhh–don’t tell anyone.) If you’ve not read his novels I Am One of You Forever and Brighten the Corner Where You Are you should be locked in a room and not released until you finish them.

Fred provided me with an original poem he had written in honor of his late friend Jim Wayne Miller, a North Carolina native who graduated from Kentucky’s Berea College and taught at Western Kentucky University. Both are well known Appalachian writers, and it is fitting that Chappell begins the poem with the image of a mountain.

I handset the poem in Victor Hammer’s Hammer Uncial type, and printed it using a hand-pulled iron Washington press at the University of Kentucky’s King Library Press. The poem was hand inked in three colors and printed in one pull on dampened mould made Hahnemuhle Biblio paper in a numbered edition of 100, each signed by Fred Chappell.

Long Passing - title

It was the last thing I printed, and also the best thing I did in my short letterpress career. Fred Chappell liked it, too, writing in correspondence to me:

“It is lovely, edible, swoon-inducing.”


“I’ve never had such an opulent presentation, I think–in fact, I’ve rarely seen any so well done.”

True or not, I liked hearing it.

As I moved on to other things (probably should have stuck with letterpress) soon thereafter, I’ve ended up with several unsold copies that would be better on your wall than in my storage. So if you’d like to own one of Ol’ Fred’s limited broadsides, I’m offering some for sale. You can contact me via the Contact Page.

$35 each, including shipping in the US. I prefer Paypal.
12″ x 7 7/16″

Long Passing Away broadside

Long Passing colophon

Portrait of the Artist: In Memory of My Friend Jane Gentry Vance

I will miss Jane Vance. I knew through mutual friends that Jane was sick, but one often underestimates such things from a distance, focusing on one’s own problems until it’s too late. I had checked for her at her house a couple of times when driving through Versailles, but hadn’t found her.

Jane Gentry VanceI knew Jane for over twenty five years, extending back to my earliest days as a student at the University of Kentucky. My cousin Jennifer and friend Dave developed earlier relationships with Jane. Jennifer idolized her. Dave worked with her on the Honors Program literary magazine JAR.

She was from old Kentucky stock that extended back to Daniel Boone’s Fort Boonesborough. She was raised not far from there in southern Fayette County on ancestral land in Athens (pronounced with a long “a”). Jane had left Kentucky for Hollins, then for the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She was a student of the great Southern scholar Louis D. Rubin, Jr. But the pull of Kentucky is strong. She came back to teach English at the University of Kentucky.

Jane worked with my good friend Dr. Raymond F. Betts in UK’s then excellent Honors Program, which they built into a Great Books survey of Western Civilization. For many of us, the Honors Program was the defining experiencing at UK. It is one of life’s injustices that Jane Vance did not become director of the Honors Program when Dr. Betts left as Director.

I finally had Jane in class as a sophomore in Honors 202, a Great Books focus on the modern period. She loved, and taught, T.S. Eliot to us. Before I learned Eliot through the lens of my boss Russell Kirk, Jane introduced me to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Waste Land.” She was a thoughtful, and reasonable, expositor of texts, teaching us well how to think and write about these giants on whose shoulders we stood.

Jane remained one of my favorite teachers. I remember being invited to her home for a Christmas party, my first time on Morgan Street in Versailles. When I wrote my final column as Editorial Page Editor at UK’s student newspaper The Kentucky Kernel, I listed Jane along with Raymond Betts and Jim Force as my favorite teachers. I admit I gave some priority to Dr. Betts and Dr. Force (I had both in multiple classes). Jane joked to me that she felt like Shakespeare’s wife being left the second best bed.

Among my teachers, though, was Jane Vance who would remain my good friend for decades to come.

I moved back to Kentucky after graduate school in South Carolina, newly married and looking for a place to live. Jane told me about an apartment, a flat, in a historic home a few houses down from her on Morgan Street in Versailles. It was owned by Lexington art gallery owner Heike Pickett, who was (understandably) somewhat skeptical of us (particularly of my wife’s cat). I’m pretty sure she let us in because of Jane.

I am thankful to Jane for opening the door to Morgan Street, which will forever be the most perfect place we lived. The old 19th Century house had slanting floors, no air conditioning, and cantankerous elderly upstairs tenants. We had no money. But Morgan Street was lovely and historic. You felt special living there.

And, of course, we had Jane herself just down the street. We would sometimes housesit for her, watching after plants and cats, playing with word magnets on her refrigerator. (Fun Jane fact, the exterior of her house was used in the movie Elizabethtown, which actually was filmed in Versailles, not in Elizabethtown.)

It was during this time that I apprenticed under Gray Zeitz at Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky. Gray is one of America’s foremost letterpress printers, a key figure in Kentucky’s literary scene for four decades. I wanted to print some of my own projects, which I began doing under the imprint of Adela Press, named after the small community where I grew up in Clay County.

The most straightforward project to start with was a broadside poem. A broadside is a larger piece of paper printed on one side and, these days, often framed as a piece of art. But who of note would be willing to let me, an unproven and inexperienced printer, potentially make a disaster of a valued poem?

Well, my poet neighbor Jane, of course.

I nervously approached Jane about the idea, and, of course she graciously jumped on board the project. She had just written a poem about pigs as part of a poetry group of which she was a member. It was called “Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig.”White Pig illustration

White Pig broadsideAmong our Versailles neighbors was gifted artist Laura Lee Cundiff. She kindly agreed to illustrate the poem. The broadside came together as a Versailles confluence of poet, artist, and printer. I handset the poem and printed it in an edition of only seventy five copies (in hindsight, I obviously should have printed a hundred of them), signed by both Jane and Laura Lee. A few people even bought them. I’m just happy to have it hanging on my own wall.

Amazingly for me, “Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig” later became the title poem of Jane’s second collection of poetry for LSU Press. The artwork I commissioned from Laura Lee for the broadside was used on the cover. Such is my minor contribution to Southern belles lettres. I can’t help but confess how pleased I was that our little project made such a ripple.

White Pig bookJane later became Kentucky’s Poet Laureate, a well deserved honor. There was no confirmation that “Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig” put her over the top when the honor was bestowed.

I saw Jane infrequently in the decade I was away from Kentucky. A couple of years ago, driving home for a visit, we drove up Morgan Street as I do every single time I drive through Versailles. Jane was home, so we stopped, uninvited and unexpected, but always welcome. We sent our girls to play in the backyard, and sat on the porch talking to Jane, catching up on this and that. It was a visit I think about again and again, the last time I visited with Jane on Morgan Street.

I did see Jane one more time, at the funeral for my cousin Jennifer who had idolized Jane so, who had reached out to Jane for counsel when times were hard. It was an example of how kind and considerate Jane was. We hugged and spoke briefly.

St Johns window Versailles

Window at St. John’s Church

All of these things ran through my mind at Jane’s funeral. It was a beautiful service in Versailles’ beautiful St. John’s Episcopal Church, and it all well reflected beautiful Jane herself. I saw Heike and Irwin Pickett and Laura Lee Cundiff from those old Morgan Street days. (When I told Irwin I had just moved back to Kentucky he replied, “Kentuckians always come back.”) My friends lawyer Dave Abner and writer David King were there, fellow students of Jane’s at UK. The three of us went for coffee and talked about Jane, the UK Honors Program, and the old days. And I met local chef Ouita Michel, who I learned was Jane’s student, too. She told me Jane was her constant supporter and one of her best customers. If you needed Jane’s support, she would give it.

How wonderful, indeed, was Jane’s life. What a powerful impact she had on so many people. And I am thankful that I was able, in some way, to be part of that life. I will miss Jane Vance.

When I awoke one day, my bloom
was past. Those who loved me first were dead,
and promises had blown away like chaff
or clouds, which dazzle now only in the moment
of their height and roll.
The years have given back the thing itself.
from “My Life Story,” by Jane Gentry Vance

Watch this fantastic interview with Jane by my old friend, and fellow Eastern Kentuckian, Gurney Norman.

Sartorial Archaelogy: A Robert Talbott Foulard Patch Tie

Some thrifters are simply interested in skimming off the cream of overlooked haute couture offerings, others are interested in digging up a little sartorial history, too. Neckties are way to do this, probably the easiest way. People tended to buy a lot of them, and often they were somewhat lightly worn.

After a decade of thrifting I’ve seen all sorts of oddities, some so odd they never should have been at all. But recently I came across something I had not seen before, a patch silk foulard tie from independent men’s shop stalwart Robert Talbott and its its higher end Best of Class line.

Talbott Patch Foulard

Patch fabrics take cuttings, originally as a way to make economical use of scraps, from usually related fabrics and sew them together. This conveys a bit of a devil-may-care attitude, thus are part of what has traditionally been called a GTH, or “go-to-hell” look. That is to say, the one who wears such a thing really could not care less what you think about it, or him. It originated as a class statement. Men who are able to convey such a notion are those who don’t fear the repercussions of a superior who may not like it.

As with most clothing from this genre, J. Crew and others got a hold of it, commodified it, and now you can get such pieces ready made for the outlet mall. Patch madras, which I confess to liking, is the most commonly seen patch clothing, usually seen in ties, trousers and shorts, and flat caps. Patch tweeds and tartans are the winter versions.

Patch silk foulard, however, is a rare breed that hearkens back to “authentic” patch meant for the dandy gentleman brave enough to wear it. Foulard itself is that most conservative of ties, typically small repeating patterns or more reserved paisleys and pines. Here the foulard patterns live together in colorway harmony. It is a subtle patch that at least says “gth” in lower case. A quick Internet search only turned up one similar example, also made by Robert Talbott.

Processed with VSCOcam with a4 presetI find ties of interest, too, as artifacts of often long gone men’s shops. D.J. Showalter Gentleman’s Clothiers, once in Lexington’s Fayette Mall and the downtown Civic Center, seems to have fought the good fight until the mid-1980s. They sold this tie for $37.50, which is a lot more than many people pay for ties today. Showalter also went by the name “Fox and Hound” as a play to the horsey set. In June 1984 they marked down everything in a bid to stay open. This tie may even date from that sale.

Times, and fashions, inevitably change. Stores come and go. But both sometimes leave clues behind that things were once somewhat different.

My New Project: Eat Kentucky

Eat Kentucky logoFrom pretty early in the life of Pinstripe Pulpit I have posted restaurant reviews from time to time. Since moving back to Kentucky it’s something I’ve become even more interested in. I decided the best option was to create an entirely new website that would allow me to explore food in my native state: Eat Kentucky was born.

Pinstripe Pulpit is still open for business, and I hope the new site will help me refine the focus here. Thanks to all of you for reading here, and I hope some of you will also find Eat Kentucky of interest.

Review: Does Lexington’s Tolly-Ho Make Kentucky’s Best Burger?

Tolly Ho burger rings

Founded in 1971, Lexington’s Tolly-Ho Restaurant has long been a burger and shake mecca for University of Kentucky students. I went there myself as a UK student a couple of decades ago back at the old location on the corner of Euclid and Limestone.

Tolly-Ho recently received some great press when The Chive ranked the best burgers in each state, crowning Tolly-Ho as maker of Kentucky’s best hamburger. I figured it was time to revisit Tolly-Ho, after all these years, at its new location on South Broadway.

Tolly Ho door

I ordered the flagship burger, a Tolly-Ho with cheese. With fond memories of their onion rings, I chose rings rather than fries. It’s a good thing that Tolly-Ho makes great shakes because they carry Pepsi products, and, well, nobody wants that (they do have Ale-8-One readily available). I tacked on a strawberry shake.

There certainly is no complaining about the quality of the burger. It’s tasty and moist with the right “burger” taste. I ordered mine with cheddar cheese, and I will say it didn’t have that cheddar bite to it. That quibble aside, it was a solid burger experience. The Tolly Ho is, indeed, a great burger.

Tolly Ho Burger bitten

I am also a big fan of the onion rings. They were as good as I remembered. The serving size was generous (maybe too generous considering how badly I don’t need to eat onion rings). The batter was crisp and not crumbly, avoiding frequent onion ring failings.

My wife ordered the cheddar tots as her side, tater tots with cheddar cheese inside. They were good, but I’m not a big tater tot fan so I’m not the best judge. I think if they’re the sort of thing you like, you will like them.

Tolly Ho shakeI don’t want to fail to mention my strawberry shake. It was rich and thick with real strawberry flavor, not the dreaded Strawberry Quick taste. Some strawberry chunks would be nice, as would a dedicated shake glass or mug rather than the standard plastic Pepsi cups. But get the shake.

It was great being back at Tolly-Ho, although I miss the old location across the street from UK’s Student Center and north dorms, not that those dorms are there anymore. If you’re in Lexington and want to try a classic, stop by Tolly-Ho. Tolly-Ho has a great burger with excellent sides, but for the best burger in Kentucky I’m going to keep looking.

Tolly Ho Restaurant
606 South Broadway
Lexington, Kentucky 40508
Open 24 Hours

Tolly Ho sign fern

Tolly Ho counter


Abercrombie & Fitch Meets Louisville’s Churchill Downs

A&F Engraving

A&F catalogThere was a time when the name Abercrombie & Fitch didn’t call to mind shirtless models (both male and female) and questionable mall clothes. There were few, if any, stores more venerable than New York’s outdoor outfitter Abercrombie & Fitch. Founded in 1892, it was a place where men like Ernest Hemingway would go to be kitted out for an African safari, or Charles Lindbergh for a trans-Atlantic flight. It filled its own twelve storey building on Madison Avenue, with a shooting range and fly casting pool in the middle of Manhattan. Eventually the time of luxury and quality ended, the store declared bankruptcy, and A & F was sold off to become the arbiter of bad taste you know today. One might argue the rise and fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is a metaphor for American civilization itself.

A & F expanded beyond its Madison Street confines during its heyday, opening seasonal resort shops for the A & F set, which leads us to this recent item from eBay. EBay is a treasure trove of oddities, vintage flotsam and jetsam. Much of it flies under the radar, some is simply outright mislisted. Sometimes those items bring to light lost history or a forgotten connection, and that seems to be the case here.

Fellows-AA Seat stickPictured in this Laurence Fellows illustration is a seat stick, the kind that was (or is, you can still buy them) used out of doors, particularly at race tracks. The seat at the top folds into a handle that makes the stick not only easily portable, but also useful as a walking stick. When you’ve reached your destination, unfold the handle into a seat and relax.

What makes this eBay Abercrombie & Fitch seat stick particularly interesting is its co-branding with Louisville’s Churchill Downs. One would suspect the seat actually was sold at Churchill Downs.

Did the Churchill Downs shop stock A&F items, or did A&F have its own seasonal shop at Churchill Downs? Or perhaps Churchill Downs had made a bulk order from A & F, and used the seat sticks in-house or gave them as gifts. Fascinating possibilities are raised about a forever lost time prodded by a chance encounter on a virtual fleamarket.

A&F 01 A&F 02 A&F point

Lexington’s Southland Jamboree, Live Music, & Community

 “Throw out the radio and take down the fiddle from the wall.” – Andrew Lytle

Velvet Blue 01

It’s hard to beat live music, especially summertime outdoor live music. Make it neighborhood summertime outdoor live music and you’ve reached live music nirvana (confession: I never actually saw Nirvana live).

That brings us to Lexington’s Southland Jamboree. During my decade of exile from Kentucky I rarely got to see live Bluegrass music. I was overjoyed to find that in my absence a weekly neighborhood summer Bluegrass concert series had sprung up on Southland Drive. The better news is that’s only a few blocks from our house.

Southland Drive 1

The series opened the Tuesday following Memorial Day on a grassy spot behind the bowling alley with the eponymous local band Southland Drive. Last week was the more youthful Velvet Blue (who did not perform a Bluegrass version of ‘Blue Velvet’). Tonight is the band Newtown (see the full summer schedule).

Velvet Blue 02But Bluegrass is not simply a spectator sport. After an hour listening to the evening’s scheduled entertainment, the natives get their turn as audience jamming begins. This is in keeping with Andrew Lytle’s admonition in I’ll Take My Stand, “Throw out the radio and take down the fiddle from the wall.” Sometimes we need the right nudge to do just that.

What are building blocks of community and culture? It’s a complex question, but I would argue that two elements are eating together and making music together. The Bluegrass Jamboree is the sort of local project that promotes local culture and true community. Our folding chairs are in the trunk, and an evening picnic will be ready for tonight’s show.

Southland Jamboree


‘Kentucky’: The New Book of Bluegrass Photographs by Pieter Estersohn

Gainesway Farm, via Garden & Gun

Gainesway Farm, via Garden & Gun

One doesn’t take long in the Bluegrass to recognize so many scenes are picture perfect. That’s clearly what celebrated New York photographer Pieter Estersohn thought when he turned to the Lexington area as the subject of his new book, Kentucky: Historic Homes and Horse Farms of the Bluegrass Region.

There’s been something of a media blitz to promote the book, which provide interesting perspective on the beauty and culture of the Bluegrass from an outsider’s perspective. Sandy Keenan at The New York Times has a brief interview with Estersohn. We learn how the project sent Estersohn to the hospital, and what Bluegrass house Estersohn would like to call home. Keenan also asks him “why Kentucky?”:

For a guy who grew up in Manhattan, California and Paris,  why did you pick Kentucky?

One of my oldest friends, Antony Beck, whose family is in the international business of both horses and wine, lives there with his wife and five children, at Gainesway Farm. He’s the godfather of my 10-year-old son, Elio. So we were always going there to visit, staying in the Norman-style guesthouse. As someone very passionate about history and architecture, I got to experience bluegrass country over time, and the pieces started to fall together. It seemed like a very underrepresented part of the country, which hadn’t been fully fleshed out in a dedicated way.

Keeneland Magazine‘s Debra Gibson Isaacs also features Estersohn in the Spring issue. She writes:

Masterful photography allow readers to see everything from the smallest details in silverware to the normally unseen panoramic views revealed through aerial photographs. In all, there are 150 color photographs. “This is a special and unique American region,” Estersohn said. “I love the history. I love that it was part of Virginia and was English. The whole history of how horse breeding and racing came to the region is fascinating as is the reference to Lexington being the ‘Athens of the West.'”

And don’t miss the Garden & Gun gallery of selected photographs from the book. Even for those of us who live in the Bluegrass, Estersohn opens the door to places that most of us are never able to see.